Breaking the code on rest breaks in HOS proposal

August 29, 2019

Jami Jones

|

Drivers for years have said they want to be able to take rest breaks when they want to. Finally, there is some traction at the agency level to make that happen.

When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released its notice of proposed rulemaking on Aug. 14, many zeroed in on the two provisions regarding rest breaks. In short, the notice proposed two changes specific to rest breaks:

  • Tying the 30-minute rest break requirement to eight hours of driving time and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty-but-not-driving status.
  • Allowing drivers the option of taking a three-consecutive-hour break once per duty period.

The 30-minute rest break

Currently, drivers are required to take a 30-minute rest break every day they are on duty for more than eight hours. It has to be logged off duty or in the sleeper berth, and it does not stop the 14-hour on-duty clock – unless you’re running under an exemption.

The proposal is to change the requirement of a 30-minute rest break from before eight hours of on-duty time have transpired to if more than eight hours of consecutive driving time have passed.

The trick now is that it’s not a hard-and-fast everyday requirement. It’s only a requirement if you actually drive eight hours nonstop. The language in the proposal even states that, “if required,” drivers can take it on duty but not driving, off duty, or in the sleeper berth.

The language does not specifically state that if a driver takes the 30-minute rest break off duty if it will stop the 14-hour on-duty clock. It can, however in some cases, depending on if a driver uses the second break option proposed.

Split-duty provision

In the current regulations, once the duty period starts, it runs for 14 consecutive hours. After that, a driver may not drive a commercial motor vehicle again until after 10 or more consecutive hours off duty. Nothing stops the running of the 14-hour clock except a minimum eight-hour period in a sleeper berth.

What the agency is proposing is to add a new option for one off-duty period of not less than 30 minutes but no more than three hours that would stop the ticking 14-hour clock for the duration of the rest period. Remember, this is not a requirement and is optional.

So how does this all work?

The language could be a bit confusing. The proposal is not restricting drivers to only one off-duty break per day. In reality, drivers can take as many as they want but only one can pause the 14-hour clock.

So if a driver has driven eight consecutive hours and takes the required 30-minute rest break as off duty and takes no other breaks throughout the day, that mandatory rest break could be used to pause the on-duty clock. It doesn’t have to, but it can be annotated and used that way.

Consider another scenario. A driver takes a required 30-minute rest break and logs it as off duty and then takes a second longer off-duty break during the day. Before the end of the 14-hour duty shift, the driver has the option to choose one of the two off-duty to pause the on-duty shift.

The only way a mandatory 30-minute rest break cannot be used to pause the 14-hour on-duty shift is if it is logged on duty, but not driving.

OOIDA support

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been vocal in its support of FMCSA’s attempt to build flexibility back into the rigid hours-of-service regulations.

Initially prompted by a petition from OOIDA, FMCSA proposed a rulemaking on hours-of-service reform that promises to give truck drivers more flexibility.

“I spent nearly 25 years driving truck, so I’m qualified to say that the existing hours-of-service regulations are ‘misguided,’ to put it politely,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh said. “Administrator Martinez committed to working with OOIDA to address this issue, and he’s following through on it. Not only do we want to express our sincere thanks to him and his team, but we also want to thank our members for everything they’ve done to get us to this point. In this case, persistence has paid off, and we’re going to do everything we can to get these changes across the finish line.”

The agency is accepting comments on the proposal through Oct. 7. Drivers can file comments online here.

Editor’s note: Land Line is examining each of the changes in FMCSA’s notice of proposed rulemaking on hours of service. Previously, Land Line wrote about proposed change for short haul operations and adverse driving conditions.

Jami Jones

Jami Jones has been in journalism since 1991 – focused on the trucking industry since 2000. Whether judging Shell SuperRigs or writing hard-hitting analyses, she covers trucking from lug nuts to legislation – always with the trucker in mind.